What Happened To Famous '80s Tabloid Figures

Certain phrases and names resonate in the minds of Americans who lived through the 1980s. (A lot of them seemed to involve babies.) Baby Jessica, Baby Fae, Baby M. The Boy in the Bubble. The Preppy Killer. Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye. At the time, these stories and the people in them seemed like they would never be forgotten. However, as the years go on and new stories arise, it makes us wonder - what happened to these tabloid stars?

  • As An Adult, Baby M Legally Had Her Biological Mother’s Parental Rights Terminated
    Photo: Dr. Phil / CBS Television Distribution

    As An Adult, Baby M Legally Had Her Biological Mother’s Parental Rights Terminated

    In 1986, Melissa Stern, also known as Baby M, was born. Her birth rocked the nation, as she was at the center of one of the most contentious surrogacy cases in history. The legality of surrogate contracts, the rights of the father, and reproductive rights were all highlighted as the case went on.

    Dr. Elizabeth and William Stern paid Mary Beth Whitehead to carry the baby after she was artificially inseminated with William's sperm. Once the baby was actually born, however, Whitehead changed her mind, deciding she wanted to keep her child, whom she named Sarah. The contentious court drama was on. Ultimately, the Sterns won the case, and Melissa stayed in their care. 

    As an adult in 2004, Melissa Stern had the parental rights of Mary Beth Whitehead terminated. In regard to how she felt about her family, she said, “I’m very happy I ended up with them. I love them, they’re my best friends in the whole world, and that’s all I have to say about it.”

  • The ‘Boy In The Bubble’ Perished Young, But His Case Led To New Medical Insights

    David Vetter, also known as the "boy in the bubble," was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID), a severe type of primary immunodeficiency disease. Seconds after he drew his first breath, he was put inside a sterile plastic bubble. In 1971, the time of Vetter's birth, the only possible cure was via a bone marrow transplant with a donor who was an exact match. Unfortunately, no one in Vetter's family was a match, and after living for 12 years in a bubble, he passed away.

    Shortly after Vetter's demise, the Texas Children's Allergy and Immunology Clinic opened the David Center, which was dedicated to research, diagnosis, and treatment of immune deficiencies. Thanks to Vetter's fight and the David Center, babies who test positive for SCID can receive bone marrow transplants and have the opportunity to lead normal lives.


  • Baby Jessica Bears The Scars Of Her Well Ordeal But Lives A Normal Life

    In October 1987, the world watched as Texas baby Jessica McClure was rescued from the 22-foot well that she had fallen into. Baby Jessica was stuck in the well for 58 hours, all of which were spent without any food or water. After her rescue, she became a household name, appearing on talk shows and magazine covers. As the years went on after the incident, Jessica had to undergo 15 surgeries. Her right foot is still smaller than her left after losing a toe to gangrene, and she bears a faint scar on her forehead. 

    A mom of two, Jessica now leads a normal life with her husband Danny, residing in Midland, TX. Danny's a foreman at a pipe supply company and Jessica is a special education teacher's aide. In an interview with People, Jessica discussed how kind the world has continued to be to her after her accident, saying, "If you look hard enough, there are so many good people in this world."

  • 'Al Capone's Vaults' Was A Legendary Fiasco, But It Revived Geraldo’s Career Anyway
    Photo: The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault / Tribune Entertainment

    Millions of viewers tuned in to watch The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults on April 12, 1986, hosted by Geraldo Rivera. The primetime special took a deep dive into the hotel hideout that Capone and his entourage had on the South Side of Chicago. Rivera and a crew excavated the vault live on TV. 

    The special, which lasted two hours, helped launch Rivera into a new career after his highly publicized departure from ABC. Rivera discussed how he felt hosting the live excavation, telling Mental Floss in an interview:

    I knew everyone in the news business would be watching, and as the evening wore on, I had more and more of a sinking feeling.

    Peter Marino, an executive at Tribune Entertainment, which produced the show, reminisced with some satisfaction:

    I still hear people say it was a great show with a bad ending. They always say, “It’s too bad that there was nothing in the vault.” My reply is that there was a 50 share in that vault and the special led to a dozen other Geraldo primetime specials, a daytime Geraldo talk show that ran for years, and it certainly led to the reality television craze which continues to this day.

  • Growing up, Larry Walters had dreams of becoming a pilot in the United States Air Force. His dream was cut short by poor eyesight, and he instead became a truck driver. In 1982, he decided to make his dream a reality. With the help of his girlfriend, he attached 45 helium-filled weather balloons to an aluminum lawn chair and sailed up into the sky.

    Walters ended up going much higher than he anticipated, rising to heights of over 16,000 feet, and once he made it back down to earth, he was arrested. The press dubbed him "Lawn Chair Larry." 

    His epic flight gave birth to a new extreme sport that is now known as "cluster ballooning," where participants strap into a harness and attach rubber helium-filled balloons to themselves and set off. He also lives on in popular culture as the inspiration for the Pixar movie Up.

  • Robert Chambers, The ‘Preppy Killer,’ Went Back To Jail For Selling Cocaine

    On August 26, 1986, then-19-year-old Robert Chambers became known as the "Preppy Killer" after he strangled Jennifer Levin in Central Park. Chambers received the maximum sentence, and spent 15 years in Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, being released in 2003.

    However, just five years later, he went back to jail after he pleaded guilty to selling cocaine out of his Midtown Manhattan apartment. Chambers's earliest release date is now 2024.